The cool breeze blowing causes the trees in the yard to continue shedding their leaves. As I walk across the fresh blanket of fall colors to fetch my Labrador retriever, I shrug and zip up my windbreaker to keep out the chill. Usually, we would be getting ready for a moose hunt this time of year.
For my family, tuntuvak time on the Yukon is a tradition.
Hunting, fishing, and gathering are part of the rhythm of the seasons for us. Luckily, we have a hind-quarter of moose from last fall in the chest freezer along with plenty of salmon and halibut, so we will be fine through the winter.
Our family calendar, like most others, is subject to change based on work and school schedules, visiting friends and relatives, and planned trips. And, like generations of Alaskans before us, we plan for the seasons; fishing and hunts.
This year our son started college in the lower 48, and I started a new job. Our calendar has been revised, which leads me to lament the loss of our tuntuvak time on the Yukon, and a full freezer for the winter.
As I cross the lawn with the dog, I think about Alaska; the land and the people. I think about how the seasons change. How the animals migrate from feeding, breeding, and calving/spawning grounds/beds and we, like the Native people for generations, respond to the seasons by following nature’s timeline. My sadness in losing this year’s hunt is not limited to filling my freezer.
There is a spiritual aspect to the hunt as well, requiring balance and tradition.
Most indigenous cultures are centered around a holistic worldview, their lifestyle requires balance within oneself, with others, and with his/her surroundings to ensure harmony and bounty. This comes along with many traditions and protocols surrounding hunting and gathering and sets a cultural norm based on paying homage and respect to the seasons, the animals, fish, and fowl.
There are many traditions to ensure that harmony and balance are maintained; putting lichen in a fallen caribou’s mouth so it will not go hungry in the afterlife; giving thanks to Ellam Yua (the almighty spirit in the Yugtun culture) for being blessed with a moose or other animal; or only taking caribou on one side of the river so their spirits do not disrupt the migration of the herd. These and many other traditions exist because Native people believe that disrupting the balance and harmony between the land and themselves is a recipe for disaster.
This year, my family had to stay. We could not go on our annual hunt because of many reasons. We were taken out of our traditional pattern. Next year, we will be back on the path, responding to the seasons in a way that makes sense for this Alaskan family.